STREAMING movies so crisp they are indistinguishable from real life, health sensors that follow your every move, and connected appliances that help you cook, wash clothes, cool the house and order the groceries.
These are some of the innovations experts expect to see in Australian homes by 2021, although there are already fears that, altogether, they’ll require more speed than offered by current National Broadband Network plans.
While the Government and the Opposition disagree on the delivery, timing and cost of the NBN, experts agree that demand for internet speed will grow rapidly – reaching at least 100 megabits per second by 2021 and, for high-end users, a huge one gigabit per second.
Failing to properly account for our growing need for speed was a mistake, according to the CSIRO’s Geof Heydon, as demand for faster connections and more bandwidth had yet to plateau in its 30-year history.
“Back in 1987 in Australia, you could get a 2400 bits-per-second modem,” he said.
“These modems were considered fast enough because you would use them to send text and humans couldn’t read text any faster than that. In the context of the day, 2400bps was considered job done.”
Mr Heydon said demand for 1Gbps speed, or 1024 megabits per second, could easily arrive within eight years as consumers embraced new technology.
Ovum research director David Kennedy agreed, saying downloading entertainment would be the principal driver.
“We’re talking about a lot of video,” he said.
Topping the list of future high-speed downloads is TV content using a format called 4K or Ultra HD. The new technology delivers four times the resolution of current full high-definition footage, at four times the file size, and 4K screens are due to go on sale later this year.
But plans are already underway for 8K television screens, Mr Heydon said, which could require a connection speed as high as 80mbps – 30mbps more than the Coalition’s current minimum standard for 2019.
“We could also see the first holographic TVs in the market, which will require three-dimensional imaging content,” he said.
“No one knows yet what bandwidth will be required to deliver that.”
More appliances are likely to be connected to the internet, with Samsung and LG already showing off whitegoods that deliver recipes, grocery lists and updates on clothes washing.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox also said “teleworking rates may rise by 2020”, creating more demand for reliable speeds to deliver video conferencing and secure remote network access.
Telehealth services were also likely to play a part in future broadband demand, Mr Heydon said, with trials currently underway that monitor the habits of elderly people to keep them in their homes longer, and deliver medical consultations and surgical recovery services by video.